top of page

Alcohol Use in Healthcare: Doctors, Nurses, and PA's

It is no secret that alcoholism is a problem in the United States. However, what may come as a surprise is the number of alcoholics who work in the healthcare industry. Physicians, nurses, and physician assistants are all at risk for developing an alcoholism problem. This blog post will discuss alcoholism in healthcare professionals and offer tips for identifying and treating alcoholism in these individuals.

Alcoholism in Healthcare: By the Numbers

Alcoholism is a problem that affects people from all walks of life. It knows no boundaries and it does not discriminate based on age, gender, race, or occupation. According to recent estimates, alcoholism impacts roughly 15% of physicians and nurses. These are high rates compared to other professions.

Alcoholism is, in fact, more common among physicians than the general population.

This may come as a surprise to many people. After all, these healthcare professionals are responsible for diagnosing alcoholism and other substance use disorders in their patients.

They know better than most what alcoholism looks like and how it affects a person's life when it goes untreated. alcoholism is also common among physician assistants. In a study of PA's, roughly 25% of participants reported struggling with alcoholism at some point in their lives.

As physicians and nurses, PA's are in a unique position to identify and help those who are struggling with alcoholism. alcoholism can lead to several consequences for healthcare professionals. A person who is struggling with alcoholism may experience problems with job performance, decision-making, and relationship difficulties. alcoholism also raises the risk of suicide in all professions, including those working in healthcare.

Signs of Alcoholism in Healthcare Professionals

Patients tend to trust the medical professionals that are caring for them. They expect doctors, nurses, and physician assistants to be honest about their health conditions as well as their capabilities. Unfortunately, there are times when healthcare providers put their patients at risk by using alcohol or drugs on the job. Signs of alcoholism may not show up at work but if they do, a healthcare facility needs to be aware of them. Signs may include:

  • Frequent absenteeism or tardiness

  • Unkempt appearance and/or bad breath which could indicate heavy drinking the night before (the smell of alcohol on one’s breath can easily be masked by using mouthwash, chewing gum, eating mints, etc.)

  • Signs of fatigue (excessive yawning, falling asleep on the job)

  • Exhibiting poor hand-eye coordination which is a sign of intoxication or withdrawal from alcohol or drugs. Signs include dropping objects/equipment, tripping over things and/or bumping into them as well as knocking items off shelves

  • Slurred speech or difficulty speaking coherently

  • Inappropriate behavior such as being loud, argumentative, and/or verbally abusive to patients or co-workers. This could include making sexually suggestive comments, leering at others, or exposing oneself

  • Having trouble remembering things or completing tasks

  • Acting out of character, such as being withdrawn and quiet or extremely agitated and hostile.

If you suspect that a colleague may have a problem with alcohol, there are ways to help them. It is important to remember however that it is up to the individual to seek help. You can encourage them to seek assistance by:

  • Pointing out that their drinking may be causing them problems at work and in their personal life

  • Offering your support and telling them that you will stand by them no matter what they decide to do

  • Suggesting that they talk to their doctor or another healthcare professional about their drinking. There are also many support groups and treatment centers that can help them

  • If they have agreed to speak with a healthcare professional about their drinking, offer to go with them for moral support or at least drive them there (you may be concerned that they will not go if left on their own)

  • Remembering that it is up to the individual to decide whether or not they want to get help. People who are forced into treatment for alcoholism tend to have a higher rate of relapse than those who willingly seek out treatment

  • Asking friends, family, and co-workers to support their decision by attending family counseling or joining an alcoholics anonymous group with them

These professionals may be high functioning

These professionals may be high-functioning alcoholics and not realize they have a problem. They may be able to keep their drinking under control at work, but when they go home they drink heavily.

This can lead to problems with their personal life and relationships. It is important for these professionals to get help if they think they have a problem with alcohol. Doctors, nurses, and PA's are high functioning alcoholics because they can keep their drinking under control at work but when they go home they drink heavily. This leads to problems with their personal life and relationships. It is important for these professionals to get help if they think they have a problem with alcohol.

Research on high functioning alcoholics has shown that high-functioning alcohol users in the workplace are more likely than other employees to:

  1. Have high levels of stress, anger, and depression;

  2. Experience job dissatisfaction;

  3. Feel isolated from co-workers

  4. Abuse other substances.

If you are a high-functioning alcoholic and think you have a problem, it is important to get help. There are many resources available to you online or in-person that can help you identify the problem and find support.

Suicide in Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare professionals suicide at a rate higher than the general population. The suicide rate for physicians is estimated to be approximately 40% higher, while suicide among nurses is thought to be as much as 100% greater than that of the public. We are in the middle of a pandemic and healthcare workers have been pushed over their limits with long hours, lack of sleep, and constant exposure to death.

One factor that has been linked with suicide among healthcare professionals is job-related stress. Burnout, compassion fatigue, and a feeling of being overworked are all common sources of stress for those in the medical field. In addition, many healthcare workers struggle with feelings of guilt or inadequacy when they are unable to save a patient’s life.

The suicide of a healthcare professional can have a ripple effect on colleagues and loved ones. It is often difficult to come to terms with the death of someone who is seen as a healer. When suicide occurs in this setting, it can be especially traumatic for those left behind.

Suicide is preventable. If you are a healthcare worker who has suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately by calling 911 or going to the nearest emergency room. Consider speaking with someone else at work about what’s going on—a supervisor, colleague or friend may have some insight into why you feel so hopeless right now and can offer support until things get better. If you’re feeling suicidal, you don’t have to go through it alone – help is available 24/7


At Chateau Recovery we understand what medical professionals go through each and every day of their career. The high levels of stress and constant exposure to trauma may be having an impact on you or a loved on that is in the medical field. Our culturally competent therapists are there to help you work through your past, present, and future.

For more information on how we can personalize your time with us, call to speak to a caring, trained staff member today at (435) 222-5225.

bottom of page